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A Conversation with Playtime Partner, Cynthia Hall

Woman with hands on her hips

We sat down with Playtime’s first community-based site partners in DC, Columbia Heights Village (CHV), which became a Playtime program site in 2023-24. CHV is an affordable housing complex where Cynthia Hall leads the Columbia Heights Village Tenants Association and one of the three nonprofit organizations that co-manage the complex. 

How were you first introduced to Playtime Project? 

“Playtime was a resource vendor at one of CHV’s summer camps. The representatives were so hands-on with the children and engaging that it sparked my curiosity. We continued discussions as community partners and talked about the possibility of Playtime being an onsite partner. I had always been hesitant to have onsite partners because I didn’t think our common space was kid-friendly. But through Playtime programs, I learned not to underestimate the kids—they know what not to play with—or the volunteers. They know how to set boundaries. Playtime’s success made us want to do more.” 

What do you hear from children and parents about Playtime programs? 

“Parents were asking when Playtime’s summer camp was coming back and wanted more of it. We talked about adding another week because the kids had so much fun. Parents don’t feel safe with their kids going outside without adults, so Playtime gives them a sense of security and trust.” 

How has Playtime Project been different from past program partners? 

“The biggest difference has been the experience and maturity level of volunteers. In the past, we had a STEM program with mostly college students. Some students were in the program for college credits, volunteer hours, and things like that. Playtime volunteers ask to participate and they go through training. I think you’ve chosen good program leaders, too. We never had to send an email with a complaint from a parent or employee about your staff or volunteers. I attribute that to oversight from your organization and either it’s addressed or they are actually at a maturity level where they know what they should and shouldn’t do. If there was something we thought could be handled differently, Playtime addressed it."

You often appeal to the DC government on behalf of children. Tell me about this and why you're an advocate. 

"I’m big on holding the city accountable. I’ve made pleas for council members to redirect funds to the community and not have to go through all this red tape just to do things like buy season passes to a water park. When we led our own 7-week summer camp, we spent tens of thousands of dollars. There’s the cost of camp insurance and all these things government doesn’t consider. It shouldn’t be this hard to get money for the city. There should be priorities other than new construction, yet they keep doing press conferences saying they’re tired of the violence and tearing down encampments. The blame is on a lot of people collectively, not just politicians, I just wish they would play a bigger part in the solutions. I’m able to do this work because the organization I work for is 110% supportive of what I advocate for and the community partners I bring to the table. I’ve always been supported by the CEO and nine-member board."

"I’m a product of the community I live in. What Playtime does is create the kind of village for children that our founders envisioned for us to grow up in."

What inspires you to be such a strong advocate for children? 

"I grew up in a household with a 1960’s advocate and she always taught us to stand up for what is right. My mom was one of first parents to live in CHV when they built it. She invested in the community because when they built it, there were no sidewalks and the building was only 90% complete when we moved in. She used affordable housing the way it’s supposed to be used. We lived there while we needed to and then moved into a home using first-time house buyer benefits. I’m a product of the community I live in. What Playtime does is create the kind of village for children that our founders envisioned for us to grow up in."

Any last thoughts? 

"There are a lot of nonprofits that get grants and have wonderful missions, but that’s not what they show to the community. Playtime actually delivers on its mission statement. I truly believe in the program you all have. It needs to expand to all of the city. There aren’t a lot of programs geared towards wanting to see children happy. I will continue to be an advocate for Playtime and use any platform I have to speak for safety, education, and peace for kids."

Photo by The Washington City Paper